A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on the health effects of resveratrol – a compound found in red wine, dark chocolate and some fruits and vegetables – has generated a lot of sensational headlines.
“New study reports no health benefits from red wine and chocolate,” one headline proclaims. “Red wine and dark chocolate won’t save your life,” another declared.
In my opinion, these headlines aren’t accurate and may be confusing to the reader.
Here are the facts: Researchers from Johns Hopkins University collected data from 783 Italians, who were all at least 65 years old, starting in 1998. Over the course of the nine-year study, each participant completed a dietary survey every three years and gave a urine sample just once at the beginning of the study to measure the levels of dietary resveratrol in their urine. At the end of the study, the researchers found there were no differences in rates of death, heart disease, cancer or inflammation levels among people who had the highest levels of resveratrol at the onset of the study, compared to those who had the lowest levels.
Now, there were many factors omitted in the study. We have limited knowledge of the lifestyle and family histories of these participants. Furthermore, surveys carry a certain degree of inaccuracy, because they rely on the honor system. And the researchers did not measure participants’ resveratrol levels at the end of the nine-year study period to see how these levels might have changed. They simply assumed participants’ diets remained the same, after the surveys indicated as much.
So does this mean drinking wine is dangerous – or that it has zero benefits? Well, unless you have an alcohol problem or choose to drink and drive, the answer is typically, ‘No, wine is not dangerous.’ People have been drinking wine with food for thousands of years. Based on historical precedence, and numerous scientific studies, drinking wine in moderation is likely safe for the vast majority of people.
Will wine save your life? No. While this study only examined dietary levels of resveratrol, not resveratrol taken in pill form, the researchers also emphasized that there is also, “no data concerning its safety in high doses, or for long-term supplementation in older people.”
It is estimated that Americans have spent more than $30 million on resveratrol supplements, hoping to reap the health benefits and anti-aging effects often associated with the compound. The poorly regulated U.S. supplement industry will piggyback on any chemical or natural substance that may have positive health effects – and run wild with it. Ever since a few small animal and cell studies suggested resveratrol may have positive impacts on health, the marketplace has been full of advertisements promising that resveratrol – especially in pill form – could prevent heart disease and practically any other ailment you can imagine.
Many Americans may believe that taking a daily pill, like resveratrol, can prevent any number of diseases. That is not how diseases work. The disease process is multi-factorial: It is made up of many things like nutritional deficiencies, toxins, bacteria, viruses and genetics. One pill cannot prevent disease.
Though many talking heads have appeared on television, print and the Internet to hype resveratrol as a miracle compound, the medical community has never proven this assertion. In fact, previous studies have debunked claims that resveratrol supplements have any helpful metabolic effects.
So you see, a headline does not a story make. But, if you are a wine drinker, fear not. Numerous studies on longevity indicate that moderate alcohol consumption is one of the many positive factors, in addition to things like exercise, diet and living a healthy and social lifestyle, that can help keep you alive for a long, long time. And for those of you popping a resveratrol pill every morning, hoping to add another day to your life – as we say in New Jersey, “Forgetaboutit.”
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.